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Using Descriptive Translation Studies as the link between practice, theory and training
Stockholm University, Faculty of Humanities, Department of English.
2007 (English)In: Why Translation Studies Matters / [ed] Gile, Daniel, Gyde Hansen & Nike Pokorn, 2007Conference paper (Refereed)
Abstract [en]

Using Descriptive Translation Studies as the link between practice, theory and training When research is carried out within the Descriptive Translation Studies paradigm, the link between theory and practise on the one hand and between theory and training on the other is of paramount importance. The norms that studies in this paradigm seek to uncover are not prescriptive norms based on introversion by an authority or idealised notions about what translation should be about (cf. Chesterman 1997: 56). Instead, the descriptive norms of the DTS paradigm should be based on hard and solid empirical evidence. This means that the input of DTS theories is actual translation practise itself. The researcher uncovers regularities in translated texts, makes generalizations from them, collaborates these with statements made by practitioners, and on the basis of this, descriptive norms are formulated. These, in turn, can be used for translator training (cf. e.g. Kovačič 1996 or Leppihalme 2000). The translators will then be taught norms that are valid in an actual workplace; norms which have evolved through the interplay between translators, commissioners, and readers.

One example of such a study within the DTS paradigm is called Scandinavian Subtitles. This is a comparative study of the subtitling norms found in Sweden, Denmark and Norway. The project is based on a corpus of one hundred Anglophone films and TV programmes and their Swedish, Danish and (to a certain extent) Norwegian subtitles. The material was recorded on Scandinavian TV channels over one year and has been chosen to represent multiple genres and programme types from documentaries to reality shows, with a main emphasis on fiction. These texts have been supplemented by metatexts, such as books and articles written by subtitlers describing their trade (e.g. Wildblood 2002; Pollard 2002), proceedings from seminars with subtitlers (e.g. Mathiasson 1984; Nordisk språksekretariat 1989), interviews with subtitlers and policy-makers within the field of subtitling and not least with experience of the subtitling situation. In this way a sound empirical base of actual subtitling behaviour is ensured.

From this material Extralinguistic Cultural References (ECRs, cf. Pedersen: forthcoming) have been extracted. These pose a form of translation problem, to which a number of solutions can be found in the subtitles. For instance, if someone in the ST makes a reference to The Three Stooges, and these are not known in the Target Culture, the subtitler may use some interventional strategy like Specification to help the viewers access this ECR. After extracting coupled pairs (cf. Toury 1995: 81) of ECR problem + solution in the many versions, patterns have been recognized, which has lead to the formulation of a number of general translation solutions. These have been arranged into a taxonomy which in turn can be compared to previous taxonomies and models (e.g. Newmark 1988; Florin 1993) and complement these or even replace them, if it turns out that contemporary practice has made them dated. Through a combination of empirical data and translation theory, a definite set of norms on how these translation problems are solved crystallizes. A conclusion can be formulated: if you have an ECR of the x kind, then it can be shown that it is usually solved in manner y, under circumstances z.

The norms that have thus been formulated can then be taught to prospective subtitlers who can benefit from a norm based on the experience and practice of their forerunners, without having to amass their experience. In this way, the theorist repays the subtitling community for helping him to formulate the norms in the first place.

In this way, translation theory provides a service to translation practice. It helps practitioners formulate the norms that they themselves use, and helps them to pass them on to the next generation of practitioners, keeping abreast with the development within the field. I think this is as it should be. If theory is not based on practice, it runs the risk of alienating the very people it is supposed to help. To me, a connection between practice, theory and training is not only something to be desired, it is a necessity.


Chesterman, Andrew, 1997. Memes of Translation. The Spread of Ideas in Translation Theory. Amsterdam & Philadelphia: Benjamins.

Florin, Sider. 1993. ”Realia in Translation” in Zlateva, Palma (ed.) 1993. Translation as Social Action: Russian and Bulgarian Perspectives. London & New York: Routledge. Pp. 122 - 128.

Kovačič, Irena. 1996. “Reinforcing or changing norms in subtitling”. In Dollerup, Cay & Appel, Vibeke (Eds.) Teaching Translation and Interpreting 3: New Horizons. Papers from the third Language International conference, Elsinore, Denmark 9-11 June 1995. Amsterdam & Philadelphia: John Benjamins. Pp. 105 - 110.

Leppihalme, Ritva. 2000b. “Caution: Cultural Bumps. On Cultural Literacy as a Goal in Translator Training”. In Englund Dimitrova (ed.) 2000. Översättning och Tolkning: Rapport från ASLA:s höstsymposium, Stockholm, 5-6 november 1998.Uppsala: Universitetstryckeriet.

Mathiasson, Hans Åke (ed.) 1984. Rapport från Nordiskt översättarseminarium anordnat i Stockholm 3 – 4 maj 1984. [Report from the Nordic translators seminar in Stockholm May 3 – 4 1984].

Newmark, Peter. 1988. Approaches to Translation. New York: Prentice Hall.

Nordisk språksekretariat. 1989. Nordisk TV-teksting: Rapport fra en konferense på

Schæffergården ved København 25.-27.november 1988. [Nordic TV subtitling: report from a conference at Schæffergården in Copenhagen Nov. 25 - 27 1988] Oslo: Nordisk Språksekretariats rapporter.

Pedersen, Jan. 2003. “A corpus-linguistic investigation into quantitative and qualitative Reduction in Subtitles.” Örebro University, unpublished background study.

Pedersen, Jan. (forthcoming) "How is culture rendered in subtitles?" in Multidimensional Translation: Challenges. Manchester: St. Jerome Publishing.

Pollard, Chris. 2002. “The Art and Science of Subtitling: A Close Look at How It's Done” In Language International, 2002, 14, 2, Apr, 24 - 27.

Toury, Gideon. 1995. Descriptive Translation Studies – And Beyond. Amsterdam & Philadelphia: John Benjamins.

Wildblood, Alan. 2002. “A Subtitle Is Not a Translation: A Day in the Life of a Subtitler” In Language International, 2002, 14, 2, Apr, 40 - 43.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
URN: urn:nbn:se:su:diva-12765ISBN: 978-90-272-2434-7OAI: diva2:179285
5th EST Congress, Why translation studies matters
Available from: 2008-02-01 Created: 2008-02-01 Last updated: 2011-07-12Bibliographically approved

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